The Decriminalisation Monologues
The Kings Arms Studio, Salford
Despite the title, The Decriminalisation Monologues actually begins as a conversation. In the present day, two characters debate whether they should attend events to celebrate the anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland. One regards it as tokenism while the other would like to attend if only to meet one of the judges from the Eurovision Song Contest. Both agree, however, the hostility shown towards gay people and the courage of those who challenged the extremism should not be forgotten.
As England and Ireland share a common language and the physical distance between the countries is slight, the difference between cultures is all the more puzzling. Author and director Sean Denyer sets a beautifully clear background that, if it does not explain the reasons for the situation, provides a context making clear gay people were not the only ones who endured prejudice and the widespread lack of tolerance.
Set in the 1970s, I Know What You Are, the opening monologue, records that, at that time, women were denied unemployment benefit (and expected to be supported by husbands or fathers) and, if they worked in the public sector, were required to resign upon getting married. Against this hostile background, Maura Higgins (Leslie-Ann Riley), a closeted lesbian working in the Civil Service, considers applying for promotion only to be deterred by a series of anonymous mails threatening to reveal her sexuality. The detail is fascinating with Maura explaining how she formed a friendship with a gay man so that they could pretend to be in a relationship. Riley is excellent with the confused and slightly panicked sense of someone forced into an act of bravery for which she feels unprepared.
The tone of the opening monologue is resigned; ruefully accepting a bitter situation until given no other option than to challenge the injustice. The emotion in the second monologue The Special Friend is, however, anger. British-born Mark (Howard Lodge) is persuaded against his better judgment to open a guest house in rural Ireland with his Irish-born partner, Eamon. When Eamon dies, however, Mark discovers, according to Irish law, he has no status as his partner and is not even entitled to attend Eamon's funeral. Lodge plays Mark with a low seething anger—at himself as much as anyone for daring to hope things might be better. The sense of disappointment is almost unbearable.
A common feature of both monologues is that each of the characters is supported by their workmates and community which suggests that, not for the last time, the authorities were hopelessly out of touch with public opinion when they bowed to the bigots and allowed the criminalisation of homosexuals to continue unchallenged. The Decriminalisation Monologues is a powerful play and a tribute to the courage of those people willing to challenge everyday injustice.
Reviewer: David Cunningham